Jerrol LeBaron founded InkTip (formerly The Writer’s Script Network) in 1999 after he wrote what he now refers to as “a crappy screenplay.”
He soon discovered that getting anybody to see his script took an astounding amount of work. With a background in sales, he was quick to recognize an entrepreneurial opportunity and InkTip was born.
In the last year alone, the company had nine of its screenplays produced and recently one of its writers inked a six-figure studio deal. That seems like more than a vindication for LeBaron’s matchmaking service, and he claims it’s only the beginning.
Tim Rhys, Moviemaker Magazine (MM): I think it’s safe to say that you and your four full-time staffers (including wife, Norma) have made the lives of a lot of screenwriters much easier. In an increasing number of cases, you’ve also made them much richer. Can you briefly tell the many readers of MovieMaker who have unsold screenplays and/or unfilled production slates how InkTip operates?
Jerrol LeBaron (JL): When we first started the business, it was kind of complex, but it has been streamlined immensely. Production companies go to our Website (www.InkTip.com) and select the “Industrial Professionals Register” link on the left side of the page. They fill out a form including credits, references and, if no credits, their background in the industry. Once we have done our due diligence, the producer, director, representative or name talent will have access to the site.
It’s set up so that producers can search for any kind of script desired. Let’s say you’re looking for a comedic, dark farce that can be produced for $1 million or less, has a strong female lead and the story takes place in the UK. Say you also want a writer who is represented, but not a Guild member. The search results that come up will list only these types of scripts. You can do just about any kind of search on the site.
Writers go to the home page and select the “Writers Register” link on the left side of the page, sign a release form and can then place their completed scripts on the site (at least a pitch and synopsis, though most writers place the entire script). Producers, directors and such are then able to find the writer’s scripts.
MM: You’ve referred to the business as an “hourglass,” with all the producers at the top and the screenwriters at the bottom. It’s an interesting analogy, and central to the InkTip philosophy, I think. When you were formulating that philosophy, you began designing your Website, which is now very impressive. Can you talk about how it evolved? What kind of feedback have you gotten that’s caused the site to adapt to the needs of producers and screenwriters?
JL: Before designing this site, we interviewed about 200 agents, managers and producers to discover what they most needed if they were going to search for scripts on the Internet. Some only wanted scripts with good coverage. Others only wanted represented Writers Guild members. Pretty much any producer has their own set of criteria. The one thing that all had in common was that it had to be extremely fast and very easy to use.
Over the last couple of years, our focus has been on primarily this: How can we make it easier and faster? For example, the search options needed to be able to encompass any producer’s needs-we’ve been constantly adding to these functions. We also set it up so that industry professionals, with two clicks of a button, are instantly able to e-mail any writer or writer’s rep to get a script of interest. Another thing we created was a script library, so that a script of interest wasn’t lost after leaving the site. And we’ve made lots and lots of other improvements. Our philosophy has been focused on doing everything possible to help the industry professional very quickly find exactly what they want, while keeping it simple for the writer to place a script on the site.
It seems to be working. In a recent statistical analysis of the producers who have optioned or purchased scripts through our site, the script is generally found within the first few weeks of using the site. By focusing on the industry professional, our writers get maximum exposure for their scripts.
MM: How has the climate changed for screenwriters who want to market their work since you began your service and, in a broader sense, since the advent of the Internet?
JL: When I first started this company, there were probably 200 to 300 producers in all of the world using the Internet to find scripts. Now, there are at least 2,000. In the beginning, producers rarely ever downloaded actual scripts off the Internet. Now, reputable producers complain to me that some of our writers don’t place the actual script on the site-a complete reversal from three years ago.
MM: You don’t do script coverage at InkTip, but you do have a vetting process for producers. Considering 130 to 150 producers log onto the site every week, it’s encouraging for writers to know their work is being looked at by bona fide, working producers. How does your “screening” process work?
JL: As long as the writer knows how to properly format a script, doesn’t have grammatical and typographical errors, signs our release form and has a completed screenplay, the writer is welcome to place their script on our site.
Producers are most definitely welcome to look up only those scripts on our site which have received good coverage. However, we don’t do the coverage. This is left in the hands of the writer or writer’s rep who gets coverage from an agency, studio, ScriptPIMP.com or other script coverage service. As script coverage is subjective, I am uncomfortable with instituting this as a criteria in order for a script to be on our site. For example, a studio executive gave Being John Malkovich terrible, horrible coverage. Unforgiven was given a “pass” by one of Clint Eastwood’s development people. Unforgiven then sat around for 10 years until the writer’s rep personally spoke to Mr. Eastwood, who then read it.
MM: I understand you don’t have a formal system for tracking the sales of screenwriters who use InkTip, but even considering just the numbers of produced scripts you’re aware of, your success ratio is pretty astounding. Tell me about some of your biggest success stories and how the sales ratio continues to grow.
JL: The biggest so far is the sale of Rapid, written by John Sullivan, to Sony for $275,000 against $575,000. At that time, manager Brooklyn Weaver of Energy Entertainment was aggressively looking for scripts (whenever someone is really, really looking for writers and scripts, we bend over backwards to help him/her find them). Brooklyn found John through our network and not only did he get this deal, but Brooklyn also got him a three-picture deal with Miramax/Dimension Films. In fact, John has written two of these scripts (Prophecy sequels), which either are in post-production or are completed. There have been three other six-figure deals and dozens of five-figure sales, as well as a second three-picture deal from writers and scripts found through our network.
Though the money is an important factor for writers, what I am most proud of is the number of films actually made! Whereas in 2002 we only had one film made, this year, we’ve had nine films made! This includes the two Prophecy sequels, How Did It Feel (starring Blair Underwood, Natasha Gregson Wagner and Lucinda Clare) and This Time Around (starring Carly Pope, Brian A. Green and Sara Rue).
MM: Your company plays something of an “equalizer” role. You’ve broken down the proverbial gates for a lot of people and in doing so can now claim bragging rights to “the world’s most successful screenwriting site,” (in terms of getting scripts optioned, sold and produced). By all accounts, even though there are long hours and you’re not getting rich yet, you’re responsible for literally changing many peoples’ lives for the better. Did you ever think you’d be in this position barely four years after hanging up your shingle in cyberspace?
JL: I think most anyone who starts their own business expects to be super-successful overnight. I am no exception. However, to have nine films made in the last 10 months alone-not to mention assisting in the development of personal relationships between producers and well over 500 writers-is quite gratifying. After 23 years in other careers, it feels really good to have found my niche.
MM: What advice would you give to a writer who’s just finished her first screenplay and wants to get it produced as fast as possible?
JL: A writer has two jobs, both equally important. One is to write excellent screenplays. The other and more time consuming is marketing the scripts written. A screenwriter, or any kind of writer for that matter, must recognize this fact. On our Website, I have a number of tips for writers on how to market their script. They can be found here: http://www.inktip.com/tipslinks.php. But first and foremost, the writer must come to grips with the fact that to be successful, you absolutely must get your scripts into as many hands as possible, by whatever means.
MM: What else should MM readers know about InkTip? And what does the future hold?
JL: Well, I do want people to know that we aren’t attached to the script in any way and we don’t charge a percentage. There is no fee to Industry Professionals looking for scripts. Writers pay $40 per script listed on the site and it’s on the site for six months. Plus, we have a newsletter we send out to our writer subscribers telling them about producers who are looking for scripts.
As for the future, “Do one thing well” is what I have always been told. So, I’ll continue to help industry professionals find the script/writer they want and help writers sell their scripts. As far as the future goes, my next goal is 20 films made in 2004-and that’s a tough goal. But believe it or not, I think it’s rather realistic. And for 2005, well… I’d be getting a bit ahead of myself. MM